On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby

Iran has been providing Russia with significant numbers of drones, guided aerial bombs, and artillery ammunition, which Russia has been using to some effect to attack Ukraine.

In addition, and as I warned last month from the White House podium, Russia negotiations — Russian negotiations to acquire close-range ballistic missiles from Iran have been actively advancing.

Now, just yesterday, Reuters published a story indicating that Iran has provided Russia with hundreds of ballistic missiles. This article appears to be based on comments from Iranian government officials who are bragging about providing Russia with missiles that can be used to kill Ukrainian civilians.

While we have been monitoring this closely, we have not seen any confirmation that missiles have actually moved from Iran to Russia. But in this press reporting, the Iranians are clearly indicating that they will ship ballistic missiles to Russia, and we have no reason to believe that they will not follow through.

If Iran proceeds with this provision of ballistic missiles, I can assure you that the response from the international community will be swift and it will be severe. For our part, we will take this matter to the U.N. Security Council. We will implement additional sanctions against Iran. And we will coordinate further response options with our allies and partners in Europe and elsewhere.

We have demonstrated our ability to take action in response to the military partnership between Russia and Iran in the past. We will do so in the future.

In response to Iran’s ongoing support for Russia’s brutal war, we will be imposing additional sanctions on Iran in the coming days. And we are prepared to go further if Iran sells ballistic missiles to Russia.

I do think it’s important to keep this issue in some sense of perspective. It comes at a time, without new security assistance deliveries from the United States, when Ukrainian forces are rationing out their bullets and artillery shells and when they are having to make difficult decisions on the battlefield just about holding on to key terrain.

Consider what Ukraine is up against. Russia is receiving arms and ammunition from Iran and North Korea. We also remain concerned about the support that PRC companies are providing to the Russian defense industrial base. Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives is leaving Ukraine to fend for themselves.

Do not think for a moment that Vladimir Putin isn’t capitalizing on all of this. Yep, he’s been deepening his relationship with Iran now for many months, but the potential pursuit of ballistic missiles with a range and destructive power that they could bring is further evidence that he believes Congress will not act. He clearly believes now is his best chance to bring Ukraine to its knees, that now is the time to strike deeper behind their lines, destroying military bases and military units and their defense industry. He’s counting on the West giving up and on Ukraine being left to fend for itself. And the regime in Tehran is only too happy to oblige.

So the question for Congress is: What are we willing to oblige? Are House Republicans willing to see Ukraine fall to Russia? Are House Republicans willing to stand aside while Iran deepens its partnership with Russia and actively participates in the killing of Ukrainians and the further destruction of that country? Are House Republicans willing to hand Putin and the Supreme Leader such a victory? Because that’s what this comes down to. You can’t say that you believe in American leadership and American strength and American national defense and then embolden two leaders who are actively working to undermine those things.

We need the supplemental bill passed now. With each passing day, the Ukrainian frontlines are growing thinner and our own national security is increasingly being threatened. Iran stands with Russia. We need to stand with Ukraine.

And let’s be clear: Iran is not helping Russia for free. In return for Iran’s support, Russia has been offering Tehran unprecedented defense cooperation. So, in total, Iran is seeking billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment from Russia. This will increase the threat posed by Iran not only to the United States, but to our partners throughout the Middle East region.

And with that, I’m happy to take some questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go to Zeke Miller from the Associated Press.

Q Thanks, John. I was hoping you could provide us an update on Brett McGurk’s travels in Cairo and Israel today, potentially to Paris tomorrow. Any deliverables or outcomes of that meeting?

Separately, do you have any details — has the NSC been briefed or in contact regarding these reported cell outages or any reason to believe that they may be the result of any sort of foreign malign activity?

And then lastly, I was hoping you might be able to address reports that Estonia has disrupted a plot of some — they claim to be Russian operatives who’ve tried to destabilize the situation there. And is there any planned response on Russia as a result of that? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Zeke. There’s a lot there.

So, on Brett: Brett had a good couple of hours with counterparts in Cairo yesterday. Today in Israel, he met

independently with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He also met with Defense Minister Gallant, as well as other members of the war cabinet, including their leaders from Israel’s intelligence agency.

He is, as we speak, meeting with family members of the American hostages. We have not gotten a full readout of his discussions yet. He’s, obviously, actively engaged right now. So he’s, again, doing a very important meeting with the hostage families.

But the initial indications we’re getting from Brett are these discussions are going well. They are constructive. He is, obviously, keenly focused on trying to see if we can’t cement a hostage deal for an extended pause to get all of those hostages home where they belong and get a reduction in the violence so that we can get more humanitarian assistance.

And obviously, nothing is done until everything is done, and not everything is done in that regard. But Brett is working really hard on that. And he’s also talking to the war cabinet, too, about their thinking on Rafah.

So, pretty substantive set of meetings for him, and they’re ongoing. And that’s about the best I can give you for where we are right now.

On the AT&T issue, or the cellular network issue: As I understand it, Zeke, the FCC has been in touch with AT&T, and those conversations are ongoing, and they’re trying to kind of figure out what exactly happened here.

I don’t think all networks have been restored, but as my understanding is that everybody but AT&T is back up and running completely right now.

I also can tell you that DHS and the FBI are looking into this as well, working with the tech industry, these network providers, to see what we can do from a federal perspective to lend hand to their investigative efforts to figure out what happened here.

But the bottom line is, Zeke, we don’t have all the answers to that. I mean, this just happened earlier today. And so, we’re working very hard to see if we can get to ground truth of exactly what happened, not to mention I know folks in the industry are working hard to get restoration of services to those that are still without those services.

You know, as you mentioned — Poland and Estonia. They just recently announced the arrest of individuals that had been planning sabotage activities on what is believed to be on behalf of Russia’s security services. And we’re certainly concerned by these activities. But we obviously commend our Polish and Estonian law enforcement colleagues for taking these actions and for doing it swiftly and effectively.

We believe that these arrests send a very clear message that individuals who participate in Russian sabotage activities inside Europe are going to be held to account. And again, we applaud the work being done by law enforcement in both Poland and Estonia to get to that.

MODERATOR: Next up, we’ll go to Gabe Gutierrez. You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q Hey there. Thanks so much for doing this. John, I have a few.

First of all, I want to get your reaction to the Kremlin saying that President Biden was trying to appear as a “Hollywood cowboy” following his remarks last night calling Vladimir Putin a “crazy SOB.”

And then, I also want to ask about Aleksey Navalny. His mother now saying that Russian authorities are trying to blackmail her to avoid a large memorial service. She says she saw her son’s body. I want to get your reaction to that.

And then, finally, on that dual national that is being detained in Russia, her boyfriend now says she went over there in early January. Her employer says she donated $51 to a Ukrainian charity. What is the NSC tracking regarding that case? And is it acceptable that she’s being detained for treason?

MR. KIRBY: Obviously, I’m limited, Gabe, as to what I can talk about when it comes to campaign comments. But what I’ll say is — and you’ve heard this from — you’ve heard from the President throughout his trip — we have serious national security concerns, particularly where it comes — when it comes to Russia on a range of issues, from what they’re doing in Ukraine to, of course, this potential development of an anti-satellite capability, to this burgeoning relationship with Iran, which I just spent quite a bit of time in the opening statement talking about, and other efforts that they are effecting to try to undermine the international order that we and our allies built after World War Two.

And the President is focused keenly on those national security interests. And when he speaks about the threats and the challenges coming from Vladimir Putin and from Russia, he speaks not only from a visceral sense of the seriousness of the danger, but also from the perspective of a man who has been involved in foreign policy for the vast majority of his public service. And he knows what he’s talking about. He knows these leaders; he knows these challenges. And he speaks about them plainly and directly, because that is exactly how we need to look at the threat posed by Russia: plainly, directly, transparently. And that’s what he’s doing.

And while he’s out there talking about the threats and challenges from Russia, the House Republicans are on recess. While he’s out there talking about what we need to counter — what Russia is doing with Iran, what Russia is doing in Ukraine, what Russia is doing elsewhere, in cyberspace and in space — the House Republicans are doing nothing. And that’s what we’re focused on.

Now, I can’t confirm the reports of blackmail, that you mentioned, to the mother of Aleksey Navalny. I mean, I’ve seen the reporting on that, but we’re not in a position to confirm that it’s true. Nevertheless, this is the man’s mother. It’s not enough that she gets to see the body of her son; she should be able to collect the body of her son so that she can properly memorialize her son and her son’s bravery and courage and service, and do all the things that any mother would want to do for a son lost in such a tragic way.

The Russians need to give her back her son, and they need to answer for what befell — specifically what befell Mr. Navalny, and ato- — and acknowledge that they, in fact, are responsible for his demise.

I don’t have anything additional on the dual national that was arrested in Russia. Again, we’re somewhat limited as to what we can talk about here, out of privacy concerns. But I can tell you that we’re watching this very, very closely. Our embassy in Moscow is working very hard to see what they can do in terms of getting more information here. We are deeply concerned about this. But again, because of privacy concerns, I’m limited to how much more I can offer.

MODERATOR: Thanks. Next up, we’ll go to Aurelia End. You should be able to unmute yourself.






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